Brilliant in its vivid palette of canary yellow, lilac, blue and aquamarine, Platypus (2009) was painted at a pivotal stage in Amy Sillman’s practice. First exhibited at the artist’s solo show with Carlier Gebauer in Berlin, Platypus was the product of a residency in the city, which saw Sillman develop new ways of expanding and articulating her practice. Tentatively alluding to a figurative form, the eye and elongated bill of a platypus seem to crystallise before our eyes, rising up from the otherwise pure abstract geometries. As the artist has explained, her interrelating forms and gestures seek to convey ‘blocked energy … the twoness of body/uncanny made into a stumped one-ness’ (A. Sillman, http://artforum.com/picks/section=de#picks22993, accessed 10th September 2015). Like Willem de Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn and Philip Guston before her, who similarly worked at the meridian between figuration and abstraction – it is Sillman’s ability to charge her formal concerns with the realities and memories of lived experience that make works like Platypus so uniquely enigmatic.
Sillman’s paintings have a special ability to draw us into their composition. They invite us to read our bodies into them, to expose the physical-memory retained in the painterly gesture that for Sillman is always loaded with the cues and miscues of social experience. As Sillman has explained, ‘the shapes that I am interested in looking at and drawing always turn into forms that have some kind of psychological narrative’(A. Sillman, quoted in K. Rosenberg, ‘Shifting Contexts, Psychodrama and Meta-Works’, New York Times, 3 July 2014).
Each painting calls to mind a narrative, an interaction that implies a story but which pulls away at the last minute in favour of abstraction. This ability to marshal the painterly gesture can be seen as fundamental to the way Sillman, like Laura Owens and Charline von Heyl, have sought to reinvigorate the practice of abstract painting in the new century.